Would I Live There? Doesn’t Matter and I Can’t Tell You Anyway

avatarthumbnail.jpgYes, dear readers, it’s time for more fun with the Fair Housing Act.

Last Friday a group of us were discussing various scenarios when the subject arose of how to answer the question, “Would you live in this neighborhood?”

One agent said he had answered honestly, that he probably wouldn’t. I said I thought such an answer was a violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits agents from steering buyers toward or away from any given neighborhood based on things such as race, national origin, religion, familial status, etc. A third said he would answer such a question because he’s being asked a direct question and giving an honest answer.

The entire debate troubles me.

What difference does it make whether I live somewhere? You may know me from the blog or if we meet in person, but do you really know me? Probably not. To my mind, in asking such a question you are asssuming I am like you in some way, shape or form. Maybe I am. Maybe I’m not. But those assumptions can be damning.

Are you, for instance, assuming I’m someone who only would live in a neighborhood with a certain racial makeup because you only want to live in a neighborhood with a certain racial makeup? I can’t direct you toward a neighborhood on that basis – it’s against the law for me to do so – but you’re making that assumption and may believe that is what I am doing. And just because you want me to do that doesn’t mean I can do so.

And I’m not certain that giving an honest answer to a direct question would qualify as a defense, since there are honest answers we can give to other direct questions that are absolutely 100 percent against the law.

It’s because of the Fair Housing Act that I make no effort to know the demographics of any given neighborhood and when confronted with the stats, as I have been in the past, I delete them as soon as they come in. Legally, it cannot matter to me what the makeup of a neighborhood is (aside from age-restricted communities, incidentally, where I can tell you that everyone’s at least xx years old) and so I have no interest in the information.

And it’s because of the Fair Housing Act that if you ask me whether I’d live in a certain neighborhood, I’ll tell you that my answer doesn’t matter and is illegal to boot.

Am I being overcautious? I’ll allow for that possibility. But I’m not up for risking my livelihood to find out I was right all along.

[tags]Phoenix real estate, Fair Housing Act[/tags]

About Jonathan

Jonathan Dalton is a 30-plus-year resident of the Valley and has been helping folks buy and sell homes since 2004. He can be reached at 602-502-9693 or info at allphoenixrealestate.com.

  • Jon-

    Your approach to this issue IS the SAFEST one for real estate agents to take–and I applaud you for it. You have obviously given it a lot of thought and I concur that that you’ve come to the best solution.

    What it is not: the easiest or most practical dialogue…& that’s what “trips up” so many agents on fair housing.

    The agent who stated to you that if he was asked such a direct question he would need to give a direct answer —WOW! — he is just “itching” for fair housing trouble. The need to be “honest’ when it comes to fair housing related questions has landed more than one agent in trouble$.

    Several clichés illustrate the concern of entering into such conversations- clichés such as:

    “A slippery slope”

    &

    “A Pandora’s Box”

    &

    “Give ’em an inch, they’ll want a foot”, etc.

    &, for your refusal to enter into such discussions with consumers,

    “Better safe than sorry”!

    All the best,

    Jim

  • Sometimes its tough trying to balance what is best for your clients vs what you are legally supposed to do. At least you have firm reasoning behind what you do for your clients.

  • Jon: Great article, I recently wrote a similar post on my web site. It’s always hard to explain to clients who are looking at moving to the area what you can and cannot say. Better safe than sorry.